Homework Writing Help on Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain

Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain

            Born on 30 November 1835 as Samuel Langhorne Clemens in Florida, Mark Twain (Clemens’ famous pen name) is fondly referred to as America’s Lincoln of literature (Bush, 2000). This puts Twain in the league of the greatest people in American history. Famously known for penning America’s classic novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain is the hallmark of classic American literature, and the very foundation upon which modern American literature builds. Most literary critics have hailed Twain as one of the greatest writers in American history, painting him as a saint in the creation and representation of the American society in the use of literature. Other critics have however been critical of his use of style, well and above the consideration of matter and substance, just to achieve manner and form (Rowe, 2005). 

            Clemens was born to John and Jane Clemens in Florida, Missouri. Later, the family moved from the tiny village to Hannibal, a considerably populated and lively town. Clemens’ early life with his family involved an unsmiling father, who worked several jobs as a lawyer, storekeeperand judge among other jobs, with the dream of becoming wealthy. The death of John Clemens however plunged the family into economic struggle, part of the very experience that helped mold Twain’s career, living in Hannibal between ages four and 17 (King, 2003).

            Clemens’ life in Hannibal, while rife with death and violence given that Missouri was a slave state, provided the inspiration for some of the most famous of Twain’s works. The state formed the locales such as St. Petersburg in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (Bowden, 2000). Many of the events of his time in Hannibal, including others such as family illness, financial problems, had a lot of influence in Twain’s work later in life, providing not only the setting for his successful novels, but also contributing characters in the stories (Bowden, 2000).

            One of the defining times of Clemens was his father’s death during their stay in Hannibal. Having succumbed to pneumonia, Clemens’ father left the family in financial difficulties. Twain was therefore forced to leave school at 12 and find employment to supplement the family’s income (Thomson, 2000). First among his jobs was as a printer’s apprentice for Hannibal Courier, a printer that paid him in food rations for his job. Later however, at 15, Orion, Clemens’ brother, offered him a job at the Hannibal Western Union as a printer, writer and editor at the newspaper (Thomson, 2000).

            A dreamer in his own right, Clemens commence of the fulfilment of his dream, beginning his learning of steamboat piloting in 1857. By 1859, Clemens had his pilot license, and began plying the shoals and channels, through regular employment by steamboat companies (Thomson, 2000). The job was not only well paying, but also had a high status, likened to a pilot today. With the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861, however, Clemens’ career was cut short as most of the civil traffic was stopped. The Civil War brought sharp division in Missouri between the Union and Confederacy supporters. As an ardent confederate, Clemens joined the Confederate Army, rendering his service for a few weeks, before the disbandment of his volunteer unit.

Perhaps this became the defining moment for Clemens, as distraught of what the future held for him, he decided to head West for Nevada and California. He was optimistic for himself and for his family in his trip heading West, prospecting for silver and gold, with the conviction that he would be the emancipator of his financially disparaged family. Things did not however work according to plan, and by 1862, he was not only broke, but also needed a regular job to dig himself out of his financial turmoil (Thomson, 2000). Having worked in a newspaper, Clemens found a job as a reporter for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, where he wrote news stories and editorials, as well as adopted the name Mark Twain, a reference to 12 feet of water, as used among steamboat men (Thomson, 2000).

Now as Mark Twain, Clemens began his rise to popularity as one of the well-known storytellers. Honing his skill, Twain’s break came with the publishing of “Jim Smiley and His Jumping Frog,” a story telling of life in a mining camp—his own experiences. The story was published in both newspapers and magazines around the country. His next success came with the publication of The Innocents Abroad, a story relating the ongoing of American newspapers. By the publication of the bestselling book in 1869, Twain had earned his place as one of the most popular and well-known American writers.

Yet even with his wide success, Twain had worries over his position as a westerner. Being a time when the American cultural and social life was in the hands of the Eastern dictates that were New York and Boston, Twain felt belittled by his fame in the west, and lack of recognition from the east. The Eastern established was a group of wealthy Victorian people, who in a large way intimidated Twain (Bowden, 2000). Twain had a constant desire to become wealthy, assist his mother and at the same time rise to the social ranks by receiving recognition from the Eastern civilization, which constantly intimidated him(King, 2002).

Perhaps Twain’s little reprieve came with his marriage of Olivia Langdon, the daughter of a New Yorker. The marriage, Twain hoped, would be his salvation from his rustic lifestyle, and draw him closer to the high life of the eastern civilization. Yet even with his marriage to the daughter of a wealthy New York coal merchant, Twains penchant for wealth did not abate. Even the construction of a huge mansion, having four children and a loving wife, Twain’s obsession with wealth was so consuming that he almost lost everything in bad investment (King, 2002). The bad investment decisions pushed Twain to touring in a lecture circuit as a means of income, to enable him get out of his debts (King, 2002).

The tragedy of losing three of his four children and his wife greatly affected Twain.Of impotance was the loss of Susy, his favorite daughter, who had died of spinal meningitis. This death greatly affected him, exacerbated by the fact that he was away from home when Susy died. While the moments after the death of his children and wife were among the most prolific of his life, they were equally some of the most tormenting with unfinished projects, a faltering memory and distance from his friends. This coupled with his financial failings, reminiscent of his father’s, tormented him in his later life, causing him to have fits of anger and rage, depression and developing the habit of chain smoking.

Apart from the title of the funniest man on earth and one of the greatest American writers, Mark Twain is also considered the Lincoln of American literature (Bush, 2000; King, 2002). Twain’s title as the funniest man on earth emanates from the fact that he was not only a brilliant performer on the lecture circuit, but also on his literary works. According to King (2002), Twain could easily entertain any crowd with his theatrics. Furthe, Twain’s work was full of humor and satire, and in a way, used these stylistic devices to bring his pointhome. Twain achieved ingenuity in his satirical ministrations by what critics call “associative connections,” which enabled him to tackle the world’s diversity without the restrictive literary conventions such as transitions or consistency (Rowe, 2005). The associative style indeed became Twain’s brilliance in the use of humor and satire, as through it, he was able to deliver his social and political commentary.

As one the greatest American writers, Twain tackled some of the most sensitive topics at the time, racism and homosexuality, before any writer had thought of writing on the same topics. Even more was his critic of imperialism, where while he was an ardent supporter of American imperialistic tendencies, he changed fiddle criticizing the European imperialism, while warning the United States against following in the footsteps of European imperialists such as the French, British and Germans (Rowe, 2005). Twain’s thoughts on savagery, civil rights and justice for the coloreds, while absent in his earlier works, are evident in his later works, particularly the travelogue Following the Equator.  In the travelogue he not only warns America of following the imperialists’ footsteps, but also criticizes the falsified civilization of savages by the whites, yet in the real sense,it was a wronging of the colonized (Rowe, 2005).

Twain’s attitude towards racism and slavery—an open rejection of the act—manifested itself in his actions towards a Black people; he sponsored him to attend law school at Yale, while sponsoring another to become a minister. Moreover, he actively supported the abolition of slavery, arguing that the freedom proclamation by Lincoln did not only set the slaves free, but the whites as well, yet the non-whites continued to face injustice even after the proclamation (Maxwell, 1973).

His support, moreover, spilled into his support for women’s rights, actively campaigning for women suffrage. Giving the speech “Votes for Women,” Twain observed the need of allowing women to vote. Even more is that he supported the education of women as was evidenced by his support of Helen Keller, who he supported through college education in spite of Helen’s blindness and her financial constraints (Maxwell, 1973). His work, apart from championing the rights of women, also showed early signs of championing the rights of homosexuals, as through his tales, he identified and challenged social constructions of gender, distribution of power within a patriarchal society and racially subjective racial categories (Skandera-Trombley, 1997). According to Skandera-Trombley (1997), Twain’s work in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Pudd’nhead Wilson, “A Medieval Romance” and Personal Recollections of Joan Arc are all a recognition of the upper class, female reformers and suffragettes as well as an open recognition of the oral and written contributions attributed to African-American women as slave narratives.

Most critics have been opposed to Twain’s use of language as lacking matter and substance, but full of manner and form in his literary ministrations(Rowe, 2005). Yet it is his lack of conformity to the literary conventions that make him stand out as one of America’s greatest writers. Twain’s masterpieces (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) made use of colloquial language, which brought a new era in American literature. The use of the not-so-respectable Western America language worked to not only give voice to the common folk in creation of great literary pieces, but also established a premise in the American literature, where colloquial language could be used to tell great stories. Ernest Hemingway, even claimed, in 1935, that all modern American literature stem from Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Mark Twain redefined American literature through his use of colloquial language in what became his most successful works. His revolution formed the premise of modern American literature in a manner that allowed the expression of ideas regardless of the language of choice. Moreover, Twain is representative of a revolutionist as wells as an activist in his ministration of social issues at a time when most authors would shy away from such controversial subjects. He not only championed for the abolition of slavery, but also championed the rights of women, racial equality and criticized the patriarchy within the society. His work therefore represents an author ahead of his time especially in tackling pertinent social issues through literature. As great a writer as he was, however, his personal struggle, particularly his desire for recognition and obsession with wealth, shows how flawed each individual is, regardless of their position in history. Regardless of these flaws, Twain rightly earns his title as among the greatest and most prolific writers in American history.

References

Bowden, B. (2000). Gloom and doom in Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee, from Thomas Malroy’sMorteDarthur. Studies in American Fiction, 28(2), 179-202

Bush, H., K. (2000). Our Mark Twain?Or, some thoughts on the “autobiographical critic.” The New England Quarterly, 73(1), 100-122

King, S. (2002). The Other Mark Twain; In a documentary on PBS, Ken Burns looks beyond the humor and finds a tormented side to Samuel Langhorne Clemens. Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/421842458/fulltext/FE091DBAE67D4E87PQ/2?accountid=1611

Maxwell Geismar, ed., (1973). Mark Twain and the Three Rs: Race, Religion, Revolution and Related Matters. Indianapolis: Bobs-Merrill

Rowe, J., C. (2005). Mark Twain’s critique of globalization (old and new) in Following the Equator, A Journey Around the World (1897). The Arizona Quarterly, 61(1), 109-137

Skandera-Trombley, L. (1997). Mark Twain’s cross-dressing oeuvre.College Literature, 24(2), 82-97

Thomson, D. (2000). In Nevada: The Land, The People, God, and Chance. New York: Vintage Books